People often equate summer with inaction; a time to kick back and do as little as possible. Well in 2014, we must do the opposite -- this must be a freedom summer. Everything from voting rights, minimum wage, women's rights, fair pay, health care, LGBT rights, protection of unemployment insurance/other programs and so much more is on the table in 2014. This Election Day, many of the things that we value as a nation are up for a vote either directly or indirectly. In short, who we elect will determine what direction we go as a country. And make no mistake about it: because there is so much on the line, we are witnessing renewed attacks on our right to vote. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, there are modern schemes to try and take away your vote. Well we at National Action Network (NAN) will not sit by idly and watch as the fundamental rights so many fought and died for are being eliminated -- and neither should you.
Beginning April 30, NAN will start a recruiting drive urging people to volunteer a day, a week, three weeks, or however long they can to address voter suppression. Folks can log onto our website -- NationalActionNetwork.net -- and sign up to volunteer to go to one of the following eight states: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia and Louisiana. Following training, they will work on a two-prong strategy to combat new voter suppression tactics. First, they will join those who are challenging subliminal methods of eliminating voter rights like new ID laws and a reduction/end to early voting days and 'souls to the polls.' The second part of this strategy is registering people to vote in areas where we cannot eliminate voter suppression schemes. Whether that's driving seniors to get new IDs, or babysitting children so that their parents can take time to get copies of their birth certificate, or whether that means holding townhalls to educate communities, when you volunteer, you can help push back against modern-day suppression.
When I was growing up, my family and loved ones ensured that I learned of the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists and movements that worked tirelessly to make change a reality. It is an insult to their work and their sacrifice that the voting rights of so many citizens are once again under assault. Whether you consider yourself a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian or none of the above, it is imperative that you protect the American right to vote. Too many gave up their livelihoods, their comfort and in some cases, their lives so that we could practice the notion of one person, one vote. Allowing these new voter suppression tactics to continue is offensive to all those who struggled before us.
People sometimes forget that midterm elections are just as significant as presidential elections. The U.S. Senate and Congress will make decisions on health care, a jobs policy, Supreme Court appointments if necessary, unemployment protections, programs for the disenfranchised, budgets and so much more. We must participate in this year's election and help shape what country we want to be. There is simply too much at stake for us not to be in the trenches. If we do not participate and if we do not take concrete steps to empower others, then we cannot complain later. The power is in our hands, and we must utilize it productively.
After NAN's historic convention this year, we are initiating this freedom summer project. Beginning April 30, people can visit our site, pick the state they would like to volunteer in and the duration of time they would like to do so. When President Obama addressed our convention earlier this month, he passionately discussed the protection of voting rights at length. He referenced ways in which voters are being marginalized, he shared Attorney General Holder's work defending voting rights and he encouraged everyone to participate in our election process.
"Every obstacle put in our path should remind us of the power we hold in our hands each time we pull that lever, or fill that oval, or touch that screen," said the president. "We just have to harness that power. We've got to create a national network committed to taking action. We can call it the National Action Network."
That is precisely what we have called our organization, and we will continue living up to that name.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl